Court Hears Oral Arguments in AHA’s Mass. Case Against “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance

January 13, 2012 – A judge in Middlesex Superior Court heard oral arguments today in a case brought by the AHA challenging the daily recitation of the “under God” version of the Pledge of Allegiance in Massachusetts public school classrooms.  Massachusetts law requires public school teachers to begin each day with a classroom recitation of the Pledge.  The suit, brought on behalf of three Massachusetts public school students and their parents, who are members of the AHA, alleges that this practice unconstitutionally discriminates against humanist and other atheist students on the basis of their religious views.

The students want to be able to participate in school patriotic ceremonies that do not discriminate against nonbelievers by asserting that America is a nation “under God.”  The AHA has asked the court to require that schools recite the original, secular version of the Pledge if they choose to recite it.  Congress added the phrase “under God” to the Pledge in 1954, at the height of the McCarthyist Red Scare, at the urging of religious special interest groups.  These groups, conflating atheism and communism, capitalized on the dominant political hysteria to convince the government to associate religion with patriotism by amending the Pledge.  The original version of the Pledge, written in 1892 and robust enough to get the nation through such difficult times as the First World War and the Great Depression, is completely secular and inclusive of all Americans, containing no divisive reference to God.

Unlike previous cases relating to this issue, the AHA’s lawsuit does not allege that the “under God” version of the Pledge violates the Establishment Clause of the federal Constitution, which guarantees a separation of church and state.  Instead, the court agreed that daily recitation of the religious version of the pledge in public school classrooms discriminates against humanist and other atheist students in violation of the equal protection clause of the Massachusetts Constitution, which prohibits state discrimination on the basis of religious views.